Photo Insight with Andrew Sanderson – Windy Woods

Andrew Sanderson A renowned photographer, tutor, author and Ilford Master Printer, Andrew Sanderson offers practical tips on working with film and traditional darkroom techniques

Andrew Sanderson reveals how to ‘find’ a photo, even when it seems the odds are against us

Sometimes when we go out as photographers looking for a certain kind of shot, fate conspires against us. When we want sunshine, we get clouds. When we need clear views, we get fog. When we are looking for wilderness, we get tourists. Often, our planned shoot turns into an exercise in anger management. I know this because it has happened to me many times. Yet this kind of situation doesn’t have to be interpreted as stress, but rather an opportunity for another kind of photograph.

The shot here was taken in a wonderful area of woodland about ten miles from where I live. Even though it’s a place I used to visit a lot, I never found out the name of it. As the trees are so full of character, though, we used to tell the children it was called Fairy Woods. On this occasion I was on my own, and it would have been mid-October when it was taken. I’d had an idea that I’d like to do some autumnal shots of orange foliage, using a deep-orange filter. The idea was that this would render the orange leaves as light as if they had been photographed on infrared. At the time I took this, the only infrared film I could buy was Kodak High Speed Infrared film in 35mm and it was extremely grainy. I thought that it would be nice to try to emulate the tonality of the film, but shoot it on a larger format to get a much smoother grain structure.

The way I saw it in my head was that the landscape would have fine grain, crisp detail and smooth tonality throughout. It would be sharp from front to back with detail everywhere, so I took out my Mamiya RB67 with tripod, meter and my infrared film, and set off. It was mid-afternoon before I got on my way, and by the time I got to the woods the light was already fading. It was definitely not as good as when I had left home, and to spoil things a bit more there was a stiff wind. This area of woodland is on top of a hill and it gets quite breezy sometimes, as it was on this October afternoon. The trees had not all turned yet and the only bit that looked fully autumnal was this tree. I set up the camera and metered. The light in the wood was even lower than when I’d got out of the car, and with an orange filter and full depth of field the exposure was working out at about 10secs. This wasn’t what I’d had in mind. There was no way I could get the shot as I had planned, and I was annoyed that the conditions had conspired against me.

I decided to give it a shot anyway to see how the tonality looked, planning to come back when more trees had turned more autumnal in hue and the weather was more favourable for my desired shot. As I recall, I only took around four or five photographs that day. When I had the processed negative in the enlarger, I did a test print and found that the dull day had given me a dull image. Looking at it and remembering how I’d seen the orange foliage moving around, and how it had stood out for me, I thought I’d lighten these parts and make them stand out on the print. I had to make an elaborate mask using a sheet of glass with areas painted out, which I held over the print for part of the exposure. It was worth the effort, though, as the resulting print that you see here was a big improvement. The print isn’t an exact reproduction of the lighting conditions on the day, but it is an accurate representation of how I experienced it.

So, no matter what you plan to shoot when you go out, be prepared to be flexible – whether that flexibility comes from the way you shoot, the composition or the techniques you use to edit your photo afterwards. By changing and adapting, you will undoubtedly create a better photo than if you stick rigidly to what you want to capture, without taking into account those elements you cannot control. If you really want to create an image, you may need to visit the same location more than once and wait until the conditions are perfect. However, as any landscape photographer will tell you, when you finally take that shot it will be worth every sacrificed second.

Andrew Sanderson was talking to Debbi Allen

If you would like to read more about paper negatives, Andrew’s book Paper Negative Photography is available from, price £15